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South, Southwest search sky for rain clouds

Arizona declares state of emergency; Georgia enforces water bans to

By Compiled from wire reports / June 25, 1999



It's only the first week of summer, but huge swaths of the United States have already had enough of the sun.

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Everyone from Arizona ranchers to Massachusetts cranberry farmers are praying for rain, as water bans go into effect and golf courses wither from Augusta, Ga., to Topsfield, Mass.

*Earlier this week, Arizona Gov. Jane Hull declared a state of emergency aimed at gaining tax breaks for ranchers struggling to recover from the third-driest winter in 100 years.

*Tennessee farmers are being forced to sell off stock because the cows don't have enough to eat, and North Carolina's Piedmont region endured the driest May on record.

*In Massachusetts, water levels are so low officials are worried fish may begin to die.

The dry spell gripping the South is a actually a continuation of what many farmers and meteorologists dubbed the "Drought of the Century," which began last summer and caused $700 million in crop damage in Georgia alone. Exacerbating this is La Nia, a weather pattern that cools waters in the Pacific Ocean, which experts say has created the second-driest spring in a century.

Georgia has been hardest hit by the drought, with parts of the state 11 inches below average rainfall for the year. Farmers say they have already lost millions, and many communities have enacted water restrictions.

"Everybody wants a nice yard, but the system just can't handle it," says Max Hicks, director of the Augusta Utilities Department. "We want to make sure there's enough water for inside use before we start worrying about ... green grass."

In New England, crops are withering in the fields or simply failing to sprout, while firefighters keep an eye out for brush and forest fires. Boston set a record for lowest-ever rainfall in April.

Out West, lack of snow last winter and too little rain since then has stunted grazing grass and dried up lakes, prompting Governor Hull's declaration, aimed at helping ranchers qualify for reduced taxes on livestock sales forced by the drought.

A better solution, says Clifton, Ariz., rancher Jeff Menges, would be rain. A lot of it. And soon.

"We need the relief right now," says Mr. Menges, whose family has already sold 15 percent of its livestock. "We're hoping that the summer monsoon will just bail us out."